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Robert Jackson

Whole-class instruction is the norm virtually everywhere, even though students vary enormously in their abilities and knowledge. Beginning reading is taught in kindergarten and first grade, long division with decimals is taught in fifth grade, American government is taught in ninth grade, and physics is taught in eleventh and twelfth grades.

Why is this so? Anyone who has taught a class knows the answer.

  1. It is beyond the capacity of any one teacher to teach a whole class of students each at his or her own learning edge. Can you imagine teaching the intricacies of long division by decimals one student at a time?

  2. Much important information would remain untaught if there were no standard curriculum grade by grade.

  3. Many students benefit from learning in the company of other students - together they hold discussions, plan and present programs, etc.

However, there is still room for individuals' needs and interests. Advanced students are given extra projects and assignments, sometimes as a group, while slower students are given make-up assignments or are put on a separate track with their own workbook. Help is enlisted from home.

What about grades? No one has learned how to prevent slower children from comparing themselves unfavorably with advanced children. However, teachers don't have to reinforce these unfavorable comparisons by a harsh grading system. Parents (particularly, those of the most able children?) will probably always pressure schools to parcel out the A's and the F's, but teachers can soften this harsh system:

Some parents, recognizing the enormous individual differences among students and seeing the harm done by unfavorable comparisons, have chosen to educate their children at home, where work can be given at students' learning edge. They have made the decision that individualized instruction is more important than interaction with peers at school.